Kuelap – Chachapoyas Culture

Kuelap – Chachapoyas Culture
Kuelap – Chachapoyas Culture

There are many great ruins in Peru, the most well-known is of course Machu Picchu in the southern area of the country near Cusco. But a special mention is necessary for Kuelap, built in the north of the county by the Chachapoyas (meaning mountain mist in Quechua) culture, located in the area bythe same name.

The complex located in the Utcubamba Valley is a walled city comprising more than four hundred buildings. The ruins are situated at 3,000 meters above sea level and due to the size of the complex and the height of the walls (some up to 20 meters) it must have been quite a feat to build this massive fortress. There are only three entrances into the city itself provided by narrow walled alleys . Despite this, the Chachapoyas were conquered by the Incas and subsequently the Spanish.

Many of the constructions built by the Chachapoyas were cylindrical in shape and some of the walls show remains of geometric wall friezes (zig zags and diamonds being popular), carvings and significant iconography. The buildings include a watch tower, main temple and castle and of great interest are the remains of burial sites located beneath many of the constructions themselves.

Kuelap was built in 6th century AD and occupied until sometime in the 1500s (dates vary according to sources) and subsequently abandoned. The complex was then rediscovered in 1843.

The reasons why it was built are the object of some controversy. Some scholars believe the very height of the walls mean it was defensive in nature while others believe it was an emergency refuge where they kept a large number of food storehouses such as granaries. There is some talk of it being a sanctuary housing the aristocracy responsible for dealing with the administration of food and religious leadership or it may have held some other sacred function. At its height it was thought to have housed over 300,000 inhabitants.

Given its size, it is no wonder it is compared to Machu Picchu and other great archeological sites in the Americas. Experts believe that over 200 years were necessary to build this massive complex protected somewhat by the mountainous landscape, neighboring rivers and forests. It is interesting to note that while it was discovered 60 years before Machu Picchu, it was never the object of the same level of interest by the public until recently.

No other complex in the Northeastern Andes comes close to the magnificence of Kuelap in terms of dimensions. Although it is quite a hike to reach Keulap due to its remoteness and location in the cloud forest, in our eyes, it is definitely a worthwhile trip.